The International Cycling Union (UCI) today announced it is launching an investigation into the Astana Pro Cycling after llya Davidenok became the third rider from the outfit to test positive for a banned substance.
The news is an embarrassment to a team who earlier this year enjoyed the glory of one of its riders, Italian Vincenzo Nibali, winning the Tour de France.
The UCI has revealed that it has asked the Licence Commission to "undertake a full review of the management and anti-doping policies of the Astana Pro Team" after Kazakh rider Davidenok returned a positive sample for the anabolic steroid testosterone following a test at the Tour de l'Avenir on August 28.
The 22-year-old has been provisionally suspended and his ban comes just a matter of weeks since two other Astana riders - brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy also from Kazakhstan - had returned positive samples for blood-boosting substance erythropoietin (EPO).
Maxim, 33, tested positive for EPO on August 1 a day before he finished 26th at the Clasica San Sebastian,while 30-year-old Valentin's positive sample was taken on August 11 at the Enoco Tour.
Both riders have been provisionally suspended by the UCI while Valentin was subsequently fired by the Astana team on September 10 after it claimed that the rider admitted to using banned substances "on his own initiative and independently, without any consultation from the Astana Pro Team staff."
Just three weeks later, on October 6, Astana, who are sponsored by the Samruk-Kazyna, a coalition of state-owned companies from Kazakhstan and named after its capital city, announced that they would be pulling out of the Tour of Beijing after Maxim opted to not have his B sample tested, effectively admitting his own guilt.
The move triggered an automatic ban from the Tour of Beijing as Astana are part of the Movement for Credible Cycling (MPCC), whose rules state that any member team who return two positive tests within 12 months must voluntarily suspend themselves from racing for eight days.
Maxim Iglinskiy tested positive for EPO five days after the last stage of the Tour de France, where he helped Nibali claim overall victory.
Speaking shortly after news of the second positive sample was confirmed UCI President Brian Cookson already pointed out that Astana's license may receive extra scrutiny ahead of 2015.
"I'm hopeful that these are two cases, which is two cases too many, but I'm hoping that they are isolated incidents and not symptomatic of a greater problem in the team," said the Briton.
In missing out on the Tour of Beijing, which is regarded as one of the least prestigious races on the UCI's World Tour calendar, Astana have freed themselves up to take part in the 2015 World Tour opener in January at the Tour Down Under in Australia.
But news of a third positive sample for EPO has now put that possibility into doubt as the UCI reviews Astana's eligibility for a World Tour Licence.
Astana are managed by London 2012 road cycling gold medallist Alexandre Vinokourov, who was himself suspended for two years after he was found guilty of blood doping on the 2007 Tour de France, the first year that the Kazakh team took part on the professional cycling circuit.
Spain's Alberto Contador was also riding for the Astana team when he tested [positive for a banned anabolic agent in 2010.
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